Sharing your space with birds

19 Jun

Since recently selling my house and five acres of northcentral Texas prairie and moving into a 30′ travel trailer while I fulfill my academic position in Dallas, I find myself missing my prairie companions: the coyotes, fox, turkeys, rabbits, songbirds, and, especially, the nesting pair of Great Horned Owls. While spending two weeks in west-central New York visiting family and surrounded by birds that I had forgotten existed, I miss them even more.

A rustic and simple birdhouse sits on a wooden post in the corner of my sister’s deck. A wren family established housekeeping for the third year and we have been watching the male and female feed the hungry chirping chicks inside. Yesterday while we were gone, the chicks ‘flew the coop’, so to speak, and Mom wren has spent most of today cleaning house. She stands inside the next box, pops her head out and drops pieces of dried stems, pine needles and other debris to the deck floor. Periodically she will fly from the next box with a feather in her beak and to the top of a deck post. There, she releases the feather, which is caught by the wind and blown away. Then she sings her melodious song before flying back into the box.

One day last week I captured the adults feeding the chicks and put together a brief movie.

Motivated by a woman in the Austin, TX, area that built a nesting box for a pair of screech owls (see webcam images and photos of the owl family here), I intend to establish native plants that attract local birds and construct a few next boxes around El Punto. However, I am not assuming that all bird houses/nest boxes are created equal.

A few websites and guide books are available to learn about the birds that live and/or migrate through the Big Bend area of SW Texas. Or course, one must also be aware of their own microenvironment. While hundreds of bird species inhabit or visit the nearby national park, one cannot expect those same species to be seen even 25 miles away. Big Bend National Park has a biographical feature known as a ‘sky island’, which is a mountain range with a very different ecozone than that which covers the basin floor below. These raised lands offer habitats for birds, flora and animals that cannot survive on the desert floor. Thus we won’t be finding many of those same species amidst the dry arroyos and cacti that dominate most of the perimeter of the park’s sky island, the Chisos Mountains.

However, as the bird log submitted by Randy in the Big Bend section of this website demonstrates, many bird species do call the deserts of the Big Bend ‘home’, and several more species migrate through. Preserving and/or increasing natural and native habitat will increase opportunities for bird visitation around their dwellings. These birds have different habitat and nesting requirements than those inhabiting western New York and north central Texas. Hopefully, we can learn more about each other and I can help provide them with the nesting they will need.

That, I intend to find out.

Links to bird references for the Big Bend, Texas, region and northern Chihuahuan desert:

  1. Birding Checklist for Trans-Pecos Texas region: Birds of El Paso County, Texas and Adjacent Areas
  2. Birds of Big Bend National Park
  3. Field Guide to Birds of the Big Bend
  4. A highly recommended book for building bird nesting boxes and platforms, as well as shelters for other animals.
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